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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

I36                            THE GAY GENIUS

These stories always show the monk as outwitting the poet. I have
a suspicion that Foyin himself was the author of the stories.

The institution of courtesans in China dated back, according to
known records, to Kuan Chung in the seventh century B.C., who regu-
larised it in order to entertain soldiers. Even in Su Tungpo's time,-
there were state-owned courtesans, who continued to be known as
"barracks entertainers", and others who were independent But a
peculiar tradition had developed so that the higher-class courtesans, as
distinguished from the common prostitutes, made their mark on literary
history, some by being poets themselves, and some by being closely
associated with the lives of the literary men. As a class,. they were
closely connected with the history of song and music and therefore
with the changing forms of poetry. After a period of servile imitation
at the hands of the scholars, when poetry had become no more than
a string of outworn cliches, it was always the courtesans who intro-
duced new forms and gave poetry a new lease of life. Music and song
were their special domain. Inasmuch as the playing of musical instru-
ments and singing were deprecated among family girls, the songs also
tended to concentrate almost entirely on love and passion, which in
turn was considered detrimental to the virtue of adolescent girls. The
result was, the tradition of music and dance was carried through the
centuries almost entirely by the courtesans.

In the life of the times of Su Tungpo, mixing with courtesans at
wine dinners and official functions was a part of an official's life. No
more opprobrium was attached to it than to the presence of Aspasia a1>
men's parties in the time of Socrates. The courtesans were entertainers
who poured wine for the guests and sang for the company. Many of
them were gifted, and* those who understood reading and writing and
were accomplished in music and song were very much sought after by
the scholars. Because women were excluded from the social parties of
men, the desire for female company made the men seek gaiety in the
company of the professional artists. Sometimes the flirtations were
innocent, carried on in the teasing, suggestive atmosphere of a modern
night-club, with the courtesans singing light, sophisticated, and genuine
or fake songs of love, and making concealed or brazen insinuations
about sex. The higher-class courtesans resembled the modern night-
club artist also in that they had complete freedom to choose their men
friends, and some had fabulous establishments of their own. Emperor
Huitsung was known to leave his palace and woo such a courtesan at
her home. However, the attitude towards courtesans was much more
lax than it is today. The poets of Manhattan do not write love poems
to chorus girls, at least do not publish them, but the poets of Hang-
chow did. The practice of writing poems in honour of certain